Students in the new certified nursing assistant Learn and Earn program, Jennessy Baylis, left, and Emily Hinkley demonstrate how to use a patient lift Thursday at the Maine Veterans’ Homes — Augusta. The partnership between the veterans’ home and Augusta Adult and Community Education aims to address a shortage of nursing assistants at the facility and across the state. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — A new partnership between Augusta Adult and Community Education and Maine Veterans’ Homes is aiming to address a shortage of nursing assistants at the Augusta facility, and across the state.

The “earn while you learn” program, which launched in January, allows students to be hired by the veterans’ home before receiving their certified nursing assistant, or CNA, license. The students then get paid while they earn the academic credits and clinical experience needed to obtain their certification.

The program has helped the Maine Veterans’ Homes — Augusta gather workers, as the earn while you learn model is competitive for students. 

Officials at Maine Veterans’ Homes said the pandemic exacerbated the impact of a workforce shortage that was already prevalent before March of 2020. The Augusta facility had to delay the opening of two houses following its move to the $91 million campus in March 2022 because it didn’t have enough employees.

“The approach has helped with popularity,” said Jake Anderson, administrator of the Maine Veterans’ Homes — Augusta. “Being able to be a student full-time and have a full-time job where the class itself is a significant demand on the student’s time is a tall order for folks to accommodate both. It has helped on capitalizing potential candidates.” 

Students put in about 40 hours a week and are paid just less than $16 an hour, shy of the average wage of $16.51 for licensed CNAs statewide, according to Maine Department of Health and Human Services data for 2021. CNAs at the Maine Veterans’ Homes in Augusta make an average of $20 an hour, a rate students in the program can obtain if they remain employed at the veterans’ home after obtaining their license.


Students have to pledge a one-year commitment to work at Maine Veteran’s Homes.

Five people are currently enrolled in the class, based on what the veterans’ home can handle, Anderson said. But the program is already so popular the organizations have added two more sessions to train up to 15 people.

The work of a nursing assistant is varied. CNAs are charged with monitoring the health status of patients, assisting with personal and mobility needs like feeding, bathing and dressing them, and helping them walk around the facility or go to the bathroom. At the Maine Veterans’ Homes — Augusta, nursing assistants also help with responsibilities such as cooking and cleaning.

Like other medical jobs, the need for CNAs is strong as the state, and nation, face an ongoing shortage of all types of medical professionals.

In 2020, there were 9,503 nursing assistants employed in Maine, and that number dropped to 8,460 in 2021, according to data from the Maine Department of Labor. The occupation is expected to grow 6.4%, or by about 600 jobs, by 2030, according to a Maine Department of Health and Human Services report. The average projected job growth by 2030 across all industries nationally is 5%.

Some hope the new program may also assist in meeting the state’s need for registered nurses.


According to a report by the Maine Nursing Action Coalition and Maine Hospital Association, Maine had a shortage of 2,250 resisted nurses in 2021, a position many nursing assistants move on to after completing two more years of credits. That shortage is expected to persist through at least 2025. Registered nurses currently rank second on the list of most in-demand, high-wage jobs in the state for someone with a bachelor’s degree.

The earn-while-you-learn model offers promise for combatting the shortage of workers, officials said.

Student Jennessy Baylis, left, makes toast Thursday at the Maine Veterans’ Homes — Augusta. Baylis is training to become a certified nursing assistant through a new earn-while-you-learn program run by the Maine Veterans’ Home and Augusta Adult and Community Education. Serving breakfast to residents is one of the tasks that falls to nursing assistants. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“Our industry as a whole has struggled both leading up to the pandemic (and during it), and (those struggles have) … absolutely magnified in the last few years in health care,” said Anderson. “We struggle to find the right amount of people with the residents and amount of services (at MVH), not just here, but industrywide. Shifting to gears, to rely on what the market has with the concept of the growing education platform is (a decision) one we had to make with care and service for our veterans.”

Maine Veterans’ Homes operates six nursing homes for veterans and their spouses across the state. There are about 138 residents at the Augusta location, which provides long-term care, dementia and memory care, short-stay and rehab care, and residential care, among other services.

To become a certified nursing assistant, students traditionally need a total of 70 hours of classroom experience, 20 hours of lab experience and 40 hours of being overseen by professional nurses in clinical settings.  

Through the Augusta adult education and Maine Veteran’s Homes program, the approach is closer to a 50/50 breakdown of being in the classroom and having in-person training. Though the veterans’ home selected five students for the initial four- to six-week class, 20 students have already qualified.


 “The (students) come in and do the intake and then we do the pre-test,” said Kayla Sikora, the director of Augusta Adult and Community Education. “They have to earn a certain score (at least 240) with the reading and comprehensive exam, and if they hit that score, we refer them to Maine veteran’s home.” 

Once the student is referred, they go through an interview and application process with Maine Veterans’ Homes.

If they are approved and hired, then they qualify for the earn-while-you-learn program. In four to six weeks, the student should have enough hours to qualify for a license. They then take the state certification test at Augusta Adult and Community Education.

“It’s crazy the amount of people that have signed up,” said Sikora. “I think it’s a great partnership moving forward.”

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